Boy apparently did not have meningitis Strep, meningococcal infection suspected

March 04, 1998|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

An 8-year-old Ellicott City boy who died at Johns Hopkins Hospital on Sunday night appears not to have had meningitis, but an infection that can cause the disease, doctors said yesterday.

Howard County officials alerted parents of children at Worthington Elementary School in Ellicott City on Monday to the possibility that second-grader Steven Chilton may have died from meningitis. Though test results are not complete, it appears that Steven had a meningococcal or strep infection, said Dr. Willa Brown, director of the Howard County Health Department's Bureau of Personal Health.

Brown said parents who are concerned about possible exposure of their children should monitor them for symptoms and consult with a doctor about medication.

"What we're trying to get out to the medical community is that it looks like one or another of these two caused this severe, rapid disease," said Brown. "We have two possibilities here."

Brown said the test results could take about a week to come back.

In letters sent to families Monday by school officials, parents were told to look out for such symptoms as high fever, nausea and vomiting, severe headache, stiffness and pain in the neck, shoulders and back and skin rashes of small, bright red spots. Such symptoms could be indicators of the meningococcus bacterium, which can cause meningitis, and usually occur within three to four days after a person has been exposed. Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord, and can kill within 24 hours of contracting it. The viral strain is not as dangerous, doctors say.

Steven was initially treated at Howard County General Hospital after suffering a high fever Sunday. He was flown to the Johns Hopkins Hospital pediatric intensive care unit in Baltimore, where he died that evening.

Steven's funeral was held yesterday afternoon at the Danzansky-Goldberg Funeral Home in Rockville.

Patti Caplan, spokeswoman for Howard County schools, said the school system would await confirmation from the Health Department and distribute pertinent information to parents.

"I think people will be quite relieved" that the prognosis does not seem to be meningitis, Caplan said.

"I think every person who has a child can relate to what [the Chiltons] must be going through," Caplan added.

Counselors and school crisis intervention workers have come to the school to help students understand what happened.

Some children opted to talk one-on-one with counselors about their feelings. Others shared their own experiences with death, such as with a grandparent or a pet.

Andy Elgort, a school psychologist and crisis coordinator for Howard County schools, said the students have been asking the types of questions normal for children: Would the same thing happen to them? Why couldn't the doctors help Steven?

"We talked about how when people hear sad news like this they may feel many emotions," Elgort said. "There are some kids who are kind of upset and sad. I think that this is a process."

As students discuss a permanent way to remember Steven, such sensitive dilemmas as what to do with his desk have come up. Counselors have advised leaving it be for now.

"Basically, what we have recommended is, give it a little time," Elgort said. "When it's time to do something with the desk, they will know it."

Crisis counselors also want to help adults at the school.

"We're very concerned about the staff as well," Elgort said. "This is a very devastating thing when a child dies. This is not supposed to happen."

Pub Date: 3/04/98

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